And Time Keeps Marching On

“AHA moments” result from random encounters. One of my advisees recently surprised me with this as a Christmas gift.  

It’s shiny, hand-decorated with sparkly bits, much lighter than you’d imagine, and made from her home 3d printer. Her home 3d printer. She received it last year for Christmas, and apparently the model retails for approximately $250 dollars. I think that’s proportionately—and maybe even in real money—less than the black and white paper printer I had in college. How times have changed.

What struck me, however was not the gift itself. It was the normalness of all of this for her.

When I was in elementary school, my dad bought an AppleIIGS computer. I was obsessed. And despite the bad rap that some computer games have, my parents knew what they were doing. The only games I remember playing in the early years were “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego” and “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.” Those games and also “The Print Shop.” If there was a birthday/yard sale/dinner menu happening, you can bet there was an accompanying card/banner/sign. For those of you unfamiliar with “The Print Shop,” it was a software package that “provided libraries of clip-art and templates through a simple interface to build signs, posters and banners with household dot matrix printers.” My grandparents were always thrilled to receive a card designed by me and printed in color on our very own home printer that could be counted on to screechingly and consistently print one page per minute. For me, nothing seemed strange about having a home printer producing cards. They never imagined home computers would become ubiquitous.

Side note-Since librarians like finding answers, I remembered that we had a dot-matrix printer but I didn’t know the name for the type of paper with the perforated borders and the little holes. Wikipedia to the rescue with the answer of continuous form paper.  I also got other keywords like fan-fold paper, burst paper, and tractor-feed paper. This is exactly what we want to model for our kids for starting-level research, right? So often I see searches thwarted prematurely when students don’t have the background knowledge to get to the search terms they need for the subject they are researching. But that’s fodder for another post…

Tying this back to schools, most changes are more subtle. Rolling in quietly like waves year after year, our roles shift a little each fall with technological innovations. Barring that aha moment, I don’t think about the ways that school librarianship has changed since I entered the field in 2005. But in ways large and small, librarianship has a different shape. Consider—

  • Changing search strategies. Google has gotten much better at anticipating searches and providing information directly in their search engine. A few years ago, we barely had tabs and content didn’t automatically synch across devices. As an iPad school, I love that I can airdrop materials right to students’ devices.
  • Learning Management Systems that automatically give the librarian access to all course materials and assignments, as well as student progress and grades. (I never miss the feeling of co-teaching a research lesson after being handed the assignment instructions as the class walked into the library.)
  • Google Drive, Libguides and other options for easily sharing information and collaborating in the cloud. It’s so easy to create and share. The burden has shifted to organization.
  • Free Amazon two-day shipping for items needed immediately for projects.
  • The ease of finding MARC records online for items that need to be cataloged. (See above)
  • Federated search engines, imperfect though they may be, that make it easier for students to use the databases that libraries purchase, and to find and cite the information they need.
  • The rise of visual search, especially in student presentation preparation, from image matching and location recognition, to sortability options for the ideal image.
  • Author Skype sessions that are less costly than in-person visits and the new AISL webinar series that lets us learn from our inspirational colleagues outside of the time and space constraints of the annual conference.
  • Conversations around the terms libraries, learning commons, and maker spaces. The fact that we need to specify the need for quiet spaces in our bustling collaborative spaces is a world away from the shhhing librarian.
  • SMARTPHONES- ie. the ubiquity of the Internet.  Need I say more?

There is always hand-wringing about new technologies. But there’s also the potential for positive momentum. We’re continually recalibrating towards a new normal. Since we’ve all entered the fields in different years and even decades, I’d love to hear your perspectives on the specific technologies that have changed schooling and your role in librarianing. Just some food for thought this holiday season, and I hope everyone enjoys their semester breaks.

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